I have posted before what Cardinal Bergoglio said (linked here) regarding pet ownership in an interview with EWTN a couple years ago:
One interesting fact about this paganism….. the amount spent on non-necessities worldwide. Let’s put aside pending on necessary things such as food and medicine. Of those things that are not necessities, or superfluous things, the greatest amount is spent on pets. The most unnecessary spending is made on pets. Pets are idolized. And there’s the idolatry to buy, to rent, to have a feeling to give as I want, where I want, without needing a response, isn’t that true? It’s all a caricature of love. And the second largest amount of money is spent on cosmetology. Cosmetics. I don’t remember exactly the amounts worldwide, but there are millions and millions spent on these two things. Meanwhile the Pope is talking about children who are dying of hunger in underdeveloped continents like Africa, Asia and America. First come pets. And then if there is something left we throw it to the children…..”
Pope Francis is not raising a new issue. The Catechism states that it is “…unworthy to spend money on them [animals] that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” (CCC 2418).
The most recent iteration of animals and their place in salvation follows a discussion by the Holy Father at a recent general audience. Secular media swiftly found someone to “interpret” Francis’ meaning (cuz, he’s tremendously oblique, apparently) and conclude that the Pope is “hinting” that animals go to Heaven too.
Mark Shea, in all his glory, deftly debunks what should be obvious, and simultaneously points out that “the press managed to a) decide that Francis was saying something revolutionary in the history of Catholic teaching and b) read it as an attack on Mean Ol’ Benedict. Two birds with one stone!”
Here’s the good stuff:
It’s pretty loosey goosey to talk of animals being “saved” since animals are incapable of sin. Salvation is about salvation from *sin*. Non-rational creatures can’t be “saved” since they have no sin to be saved from. Similarly, “beatitude” in the theological sense ain’t happening since the ability to enjoy contemplation of God is no more in their nature than the ability to enjoy the works of Dostoeyevsky. That’s not an insult to non-rational creatures. It’s just reality.
That doesn’t mean that the rest of creation has no place in the scheme of redemption. The whole point of talking about a new heaven and a new earth is to say that it has. But talking about “animals going to heaven” in the sense of enjoying salvation as human shall is nonsense. Your dog is capable of enjoying a lot of stuff and may well be capable of enjoying a new earth. But he will never be capable of contemplating the face of God in the way that an angel or a redeemed human being will.
C.S. Lewis, in the Problem of Pain, posits that “…there may be a sense… in which those beasts that attain a real self are in their masters. That is to say, you must not think of a beast by itself, and call that a personality and then inquire whether God will raise and bless that. You must take the whole context in which the beast acquires its selfhood — namely ‘The-goodman-and-the-goodwife-ruling-their-children-and-their-beasts-in-the-good-homestead.’…… And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters. And the difficulty about personal identity in a creature barely personal disappears when the creature is thus kept in its proper context.”
In other words, none of this is new or revolutionary at all. Like many others, Francis is recognizing our Christian belief in a new heaven and new earth, which when remade the New Creation may hold animals, including ones who we love, due to the fact that *we* are saved, and not because animals merit salvation on their own.